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Reading the academic rankings . . .

Melanie Butler explains the QS ranking system and how we arrived at our listing criteria

At the EL Gazette, we do not rank Masters’ degrees for ELT professionals, but we do report the findings of other organisations. In this edition of our MA listings we are looking at the Top University Rankings by Subject, 2019, produced by QS (

QS subject rankings are given by department, so they provide more information than rankings of entire universities though, of course, you can always have a strong ELT-related Masters in a low-ranking department, and vice versa.

The QS methodology is based on the departments’ reputation among both specialist academics and employers, plus a mark based on research output, which makes up to 25 per cent of final score. They do not, unfortunately, include student feedback, although for UK universities we have included the national measurement for student feedback, the TEF score, in our full Masters listings on pages 23-29.

Rankings by department cause a particular problem in a multidisciplinary subject like English Language Teaching, which covers three different disciplines and is found in three different departments: English Language, Linguistics and Education. It is pointless to compare, say, the university ranked 22nd for Linguistics with the one which comes 22nd in Education. Although, as it happens, both have degrees in Applied Linguistics, the qualitative and quantitative data used to calculate their rank come from different sources.

In this feature, we have created three different types of rankings. First, a listing of the QS Top 10 for Linguistics. Then, we have checked all the departments in the QS Top 50 for ELT-related Masters degrees, and listed the ten best in both Linguistics and Education. For English language, we have only listed the UK departments for which we had sufficient national data on where they submit their research.

For both Linguistics and Education, we have also separately ranked all the departments appearing in the QS Top 200. Please note that QS only gives individual scores to the top 50, and the remainder are listed in tiers: 51-100 (Top 100), 100-150 (Top 150) and 150-200 (Top 200).

Please note that while we checked all the departments we could, it is certainly possible we have missed some, especially those outside the UK, since most of our usual data sources are national.

Global QS Top 10 Linguistics departments*

  1. MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)
  2. University of Massachusetts at Amherst
  3. University of Maryland at College Park
  4. University of Edinburgh*
  5. Harvard University
  6. Cambridge University* (Theoretical and Applied Linguistics)
  7. University of California, Berkeley
  8. Stanford University
  9. Oxford University
  10. University of California, Los Angeles

*Based on Top 50 departments in QS Top University by subject ranking for Linguistics. 

Global Top 10 Masters in Applied Linguistics*

(QS Top University global ranking in brackets)

  1. Edinburgh University (4)
  2. Cambridge University (6)
  3. Hong Kong University (11)
  4. Lancaster University (12)
  5. Australian National University, Canberra (13)
  6. University of Melbourne (22)
  7. National University of Singapore (25) (English Language and Linguistics)
  8. University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign (27) (Applied Linguistics and Tesol)
  9. Macquarie University, Sydney (36) (Applied linguistics and Tesol)
  10. Raboud University, Nijmegen (46) (Language and Communications)

*Ranking is for Applied Linguistics programmes, except where noted.

Image courtesy of QS LTD
Melanie Butler
Melanie Butler
Melanie started teaching EFL in Iran in 1975. She worked for the BBC World Service, Pearson/Longman and MET magazine before taking over at the Gazette in 1987 and also launching Study Travel magazine. Educated in ten schools in seven countries, she speaks fluent French and Spanish and rather rusty Italian.
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